The Stolen Generation refers to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. This group is made up of children who were forcibly removed from their families and communities. This practice was carried out by government, welfare or church authorities. The children were placed into institutional care or with non-Indigenous foster families. An end was put to the practice in 1970 (NSW, 2008). It had an adverse effect on the people of this community. These effects include adverse effects on their health. Health professionals and nurses need to understand more on this stolen generation. This information will better equip them to handle the unique health needs the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have.
The knowledge on the stolen generations is important for a number of reasons. The first is to ensure that appropriate medical care is provided to them to meet their specific medical needs. For example, provision of the drug, ivermectin used to treat crusted scabies (NACCHO 2008 p.21). This condition is common among these people. The knowledge can also be used to gibe appropriate training to Aboriginal health professionals. The knowledge will also be useful in identifying the main focus areas on which health programs should be based on. It will also allow the government to assess the needs of the community that can be used to promote health in the community (NACCHO 2008). It is also important to appreciate the culture of these people. This is important for nurses and other medical professionals to understand how to treat them.
The stolen generations present a unique group of patients for the medical professionals. These people have been traumatised by the treatment they have received in the past. One in ten children taken from their homes reported that they had been sexual abused. One in six children reported that they had been physically abused after being taken from their homes (NSW, 2008). The abuse they faced and the ordeal of being taken from their homes caused huge traumatic stress on the children. This has led to both emotional and behavioural problems. Even after the practice was stopped, the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders still feel isolated in their own country. Carson (2007) gives racism as one of the reasons the mental health of many aboriginals is poor. He reports that young people are turning to drug abuse to help them deal with the loneliness brought about by racism (p.67).
Racism has long served to promote the oppression of the aboriginal people. It has denied them access to basic services such as education and health care. The lack of adequate funding in education and health of aborigines has contributed to their poor socioeconomic state. The stolen generation also received little or no education. They hence are part of the low income earners in the society. This will also mean that their children also fail to get adequate education, because their parents may not be able to afford it (Carson, 2007). It is reported that alcohol and substance abuse is common among these people (Stanley 2005). The children born of parents belonging to the stolen generation are twice as likely to abuse alcohol and other drugs (Quinlan, 2005). Another contributing factor to the poor health of aborigines is their geographical locations. They also are unwilling to use health facilities run by non-indigenous people. Majority of them live in areas which lack access to clean drinking water and quality health care (Health, 2007). This contributes to poor hygiene that may cause otherwise preventable diseases like trachoma. Other socioeconomic factors include poor housing, unemployment and incarceration.
The unique health challenges of the Aboriginal community have led to a seventeen year life expectancy gap for this community (NSW 2008). This means that the Aborigines are expected to live for 17 less years than other non-indigenous Australians. Many of them die young. 45% of the men and 34% of indigenous women die before the age of 45 (Health, 2007). The leading causes of death are cardiovascular diseases, cancer and injuries (Larson, Howard & Coffin, 2007). Some of these injuries include suicides and violent assaults. They also have eye and ear complications (Health, 2007).
Stanley (2005) reports on a new research on chronic stress and its effects on brain development in the early years. The data obtained shows how the adverse treatment of parents has been passed on to their children. The children are born with mental illness, emotional and behavioural problems and a high risk of heart disease. The chronic stress has an effect on the nervous, endocrine and immune systems (Quinlan, 2005). They hence suffer the risk of certain diseases such as asthma, diabetes and hypertension (Larson, Howard & Coffin, 2007). Maternal and child health is also an area of concern. These people face health risk factors that contribute to their poor health. These are nutrition, breast feeding, immunization, physical activity and substance abuse (The context 2001-08).
Poor nutrition is as a result of poverty and other socioeconomic factors. It is a cause of obesity, malnutrition, type 2 diabetes and other medical conditions. Limited physical activity could cause obesity and cardiovascular conditions. The leading cause of death is cardiovascular diseases (Causes 2008). Breast feeding is commonly practiced in the aboriginal community. It is a good practice that provides children with natural immunity against diseases. The only concern here is in cases where the mother’s nutritional status is not good. Feeding a child with breast milk only in this case will not be beneficial to its health. This is because the milk will lack some of the important nutrients. The lack of access to medical facilities is also a contributing factor to child mortality. Mothers are not adequately educated on the importance of immunizations during their pre-natal period (Causes 2008). The children are hence more prone to diseases like hepatitis and diphtheria which are preventable.
To improve the health of the Indigenous people the key lies in education. Education will go a long way in improving their socioeconomic status (Carson, 2007). It will afford them a better standard of living. They will be able to afford balanced meals. They will also learn the importance of health care and how physical activity could help improve one’s health. Education will also help increase capacity in trained Aboriginal health care professionals who understand best, the needs of their community. The issue of rampant unemployment should be addressed through the creation of opportunities for the Aborigines. Social amenities like affordable housing and clean drinking water should be provided. Indigenous health workers should be trained to help meet the medical needs of the community (Health 2008). Mobile clinics could be established to help get to the people whose homes are far from the available health centers. Community awareness should be raised on good practices such as good hygiene, balanced meals and child medical care. The importance of immunization should be instilled in mothers to help prevent some avoidable diseases.
Nurses and other health professionals can use the information they have on the aborigines to come up with ways to best deal with the health challenges they face. They should work with the community to provide a community driven primary health care services (The context 2008). They should use the information to address the mental health issues faced by the community before addressing the physical health needs of the community (Health Facts, 2008). They can also use the information to formulate counseling strategies that will best serve to ease the stress faced by the aborigines. Issues of social well being must be addressed. Drug and alcohol abuse counseling centers should be set up to address the rising cases of substance abuse.
In conclusion, the information gathered on the health status of the stolen generations and their offspring is essential. It will be useful for the government to use to formulate new policies for the improvement of delivery and provision of quality medical care. The policies will be made to suit the individual needs of this group of people. The policies will address cultural issues that have an effect on health. Every policy made should be done so after receiving input from the community. This will ensure that they embrace any measures that will be put in place to improve their medical needs.
Carson Bronwyn. (2007). Social determinants of Indigenous Health. Allen & Unwin Causes of death (2008). Web.
Health Risk Factors. (2008). Web.
Larson, A., Gillies, M., Howard, P. J., & Coffin, J. (2007). It’s enough to make you sick: the impact of racism on the health of Aboriginal Australians. Wiley Science Publishers.
National aboriginal community controlled health organization (2006-7). NACCHO Annual report. Web.
NSW Nurses association. (2008). Apology To The Stolen Generations-Questions and Answers. Web.
Quinlan Heather. (2005). Children of stolen generations still suffering. 2008. Web.
Reconciliation. (2007). Health Fact Sheet. Web.
Stanley, Professor Fiona (2005).Stolen Generations alliance. 2008. Web.
The Context of Indigenous Health (2001-08). Australian Indigenous. Web.